How We Met: Bernard Kouchner and Barbara Hendricks
Lacey, Hester, The Independent (London, England)
Opera singer Barbara Hendricks, 45, was born in Arkansas. She has appeared with the Glyndebourne, Paris and New York Metropolitan operas, and performed at President Clinton's inauguration. She is married with two children. Bernard Kouchner, 54, trained as a doctor. After working for the International Red Cross, he founded the medical task force Medecins Sans Frontieres. He was the French minister of humanitarian policy from 1988 to 1993. Divorced, he has three children. Hendricks and Kouchner recently launched the Association for Humanitarian Action.
BARBARA HENDRICKS: The first time I saw him was on 7 Sur 7, a French television show that people would appear on to comment on the news of the week. I remember being so impressed by the sincerity of what he had to say, and how he talked about the Third World in a practical, realistic way; he was not starry-eyed.
In 1987 I was asked to be the guest editor for the Christmas issue of Vogue; it was the first time they ever published anything on human rights. I wanted to have Bernard interview Mother Teresa, but that was not possible, and it was decided that he should interview l'Abbe Pierre.
The contact was by letter and phone, but then I saw another television programme with Bernard in it and, I don't know why, but I called him up and said: "I just was so moved by what you had to say." I invited him to my next concert in Paris and he couldn't come - he was secretaire d'Etat at the time - and he said: "Why don't you come by the house afterwards and have dinner?"
That was the first time we had a real meeting, face to face. I found him far more direct than I usually find French people I meet for the first time. Clear, direct, funny - you don't often find Frenchmen who make fun of themselves. He was taking his work very seriously, but not taking himself too seriously. He was someone whom I felt would be a friend. I knew that I wanted to work with him. I felt an immediate contact.
As we were leaving, he said: "What are you doing for vacation?" and I said we were thinking of going to Corsica. He said: "Well, why don't you come to us?" So we have been going to them for years and staying with his family. After that summer our paths were continually crossing.
In 1990 there was talk about doing a fund-raising concert in Dubrovnik, and Bernard wanted to take over the project - I said okay. We had lots of problems, orchestras cancelled. Finally, he called me in New York and said: "We have no orchestra, what shall we do?" and I said: "Well, if you think we can still physically do it, I'll sing alone." I think the concert in Dubrovnik really cemented our friendship - the difficulty of that situation, and the fact that I'd made it clear that I had every intention of going through with it, even though it was frightening.
The friendship developed out of this mutual support and confidence. We share some of the same beliefs, although we have a very different outlook. His position in the French government was a very tricky one; he didn't have all the support he could have used, because he was an outsider - he's always been an outsider in politics. That is one of the things we have in common - in my own profession my career is very singular, always with one foot a little outside of the centre, which can be very scary but at the same time gives you freedom and strength to stay your own course. I give him my support and tell him the truth, which is not something he's used to getting from everybody around him. He listens to me.
There are two lives he lives; his
life in Paris and his life in the field. He is two people. It sometimes makes him look a little less serious about what he's doing because of that part of him that makes fun of himself - it enables him to stand the suffering that he sees.
I've always had close men friends, right back since high school. Eventually girlfriends and wives accept that that's all it is. …